With every big tournament, Jordan Spieth keeps living up to his reputation as a rising star.
So does Hideki Matsuyama of Japan – even if not as many people notice.
They played together Thursday in the U.S. Open, and each made four birdies on increasingly tough Pinehurst No. 2 for a 1-under 69, one shot behind the early leaders.
“I wouldn’t trade the position I’m in,” Spieth said.
Oddly enough, this is the second straight U.S. Open that Spieth and Matsuyama were placed in the same group.
Maybe the USGA was onto something.
A year ago, Spieth had done well enough to earn special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, but nothing more. He had to qualify for the U.S. Open, and his stay at Merion didn’t last long. He had rounds of 77-76 to miss the cut. Matsuyama matched the low score of the final round with a 67 to tie for 10th.
A month later, Spieth was on his fast track to stardom.
The 20-year-old Texan won the John Deere Classic. He lost in a playoff in the Wyndham Championship. He did well enough in the FedEx Cup playoffs to finish at No. 7. He became the youngest American to play in the Presidents Cup. And he ended the year at No. 22 in the world.
Matsuyama, in much more quieter fashion, finished last year at No. 23, and that was no accident. He didn’t even turn pro until last spring, and then won four tournaments and became the first rookie to win the Japan Golf Tour money list. He also played in the Presidents Cup.
Spieth is now No. 10 in the world. Matsuyama won the Memorial two weeks ago and is No. 13.
“He’s got an incredible game,” Spieth said. “Everyone saw it a couple of weeks ago. He’s got it all. I know he had some injuries at the beginning of this year. He’s over them now and obviously back on track where he was before.”
To truly look at golf through a global lens, this could be a rivalry in the making, even if neither of them look at it as any rivalry.
Matsuyama dominated in Japan last year, and now is playing a regular schedule in America. In his debut as a PGA Tour member, he tied for third in the Frys.com Open.
There’s a reason Spieth gets far more attention.
He plays some of his best golf in the big occasions, such as shooting a 62 in the final round in Boston while playing with Phil Mickelson for the first time, and a 63 at Torrey Pines (on the easier North Course) playing alongside Tiger Woods.
And this year, his profile has gone even higher. Spieth had a share of the 54-hole lead at the Masters until Bubba Watson beat him. A month later at The Players, he was tied for the 54-hole lead with Martin Kaymer until the German pulled away on the back nine.
Matsuyama had quite the finishing kick Thursday. After playing the back nine in even par, and starting the front nine with back-to-back bogeys, the Japanese star ran off three birdies over the last five holes to get under par.
“This is really a difficult, demanding golf course,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “It’s really tough to hit the greens today. These greens with their undulation, it’s hard to hit them in regulation.”
Spieth ended on a sour note. He was tied for the lead until a three-putt bogey on the par-3 ninth.
“But all in all, par at a U.S. Open I’ll take all four rounds,” Spieth said.
The opening round began under cloud cover that allowed for some birdies. Once the sun broke through the clouds, Pinehurst began to get firm and tough.
“You started to notice the color,” Spieth said. “You could feel it on your feet walking around the greens, really. It’s amazing. Once the sun came out and wind picked up a little bit, it dried out very, very quickly. … It felt like we had a pretty good draw today. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
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